Meadows of seagrass found in the Mediterranean Sea are likely to be thousands of years old, a study shows.
Researchers found genetically identical samples of Posidonia oceanica up to 15km apart, which suggested that the species was extremely long-lived.
The team added that the organism – which provides food and shelter for many species – is under threat from climate change.
They report their findings in the open access journal Plos One.
The seagrass is “partially clonal”, explained co-author Sophie Arnaud-Haond from the French Research Institute for the exploration of the Sea (Ifremer).
“This means they can reproduce sexually through flowering and recombination of male and female genomes, or clonally through the exact replication of the genome of an individual forming a new plant module through clonal growth,” she told BBC Nature.
Asexual reproduction, such as cloning, means an individual organism’s genetic identity is preserved and passed on from generation to generation, whereas the offspring of sexual organisms is made up of genetic material from both parents.
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